Born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone on June 13, 1892, in Johannesburg, South Africa, stage and screen actor Basil Rathbone was raised in England. As a teenager he took an interest in acting, and by the time he was 20 years old he was a prominent actor on the London stage. Service in World War I interrupted his career, but following the war Rathbone made his way to the U.S. and Broadway. By the early 1920s he was working steadily on Broadway and had been cast in a few pictures in small roles. In the late 1920s, with the advent of talkies, Rathbone went west to Hollywood and was put under contract to MGM, where his first feature was the comedy-of-manners The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929; with Norma Shearer and Hedda Hopper). He acted in several more films during this period for MGM and other studios but returned to Broadway in late 1930. After acting in a few plays, all with short runs, he soon returned to Hollywood to resume his film career.

Basil RathboneNigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone

LEFT: Hand-tinted 1930s studio photo of Basil Rathbone. RIGHT: Rathbone is best remembered for his role as Sherlock Holmes to Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson

Rathbone's second stab at Hollywood was most successful. He acted in big-budget swashbucklers such as Captain Blood (1935; with Errol Flynn) and The Mark of Zorro (1940; with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell); romantic films including The Garden of Allah (1936; with Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer) and Romeo and Juliet (1936; with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard); a few comedies; and even horror films such as Son of Frankenstein (1939; with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi) and The Black Cat (1941; with Bela Lugosi and Broderick Crawford). However, audiences know him best from his role in the Sherlock Holmes series of films produced between 1939 and 1946. Rathbone's first Holmes film was Hound of the Baskervilles (1939; with Richard Greene and Nigel Bruce) and was a hit for 20th Century-Fox. After a second outing as Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939; with Ida Lupino and Nigel Bruce), Fox sold the series to Universal in the early 1940s. The Universal productions were engaging but quickly and inexpensively produced; in a little over three years, the studio churned out twelve Holmes films. By the time Dressed to Kill (1946; with Patricia Morison and Nigel Bruce) was in the can, identification with the Sherlock Holmes character had typecast Rathbone and sent his film career into a sharp decline.

the films of basil rathbone

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)

Basil Rathbone and Norma Shearer

Rathbone portrays the handsome and debonair Lord Arthur Dilling to Norma Shearer's Fay Cheyney in the early MGM talkie The Last of Mrs. Cheyney

Anna Karenina (1935)

Basil Rathbone and Freddie Bartholomew

With Freddie Bartholomew in MGM's version of the Tolstoy classic Anna Karenina

Captain Blood (1935)

Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone

With Errol Flynn in the exciting Warner Bros. pirate adventure Captain Blood

Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Basil Rathbone and John Barrymore

With John Barrymore in MGM's lavish production of Romeo and Juliet

Tovarich (1937)

Renie Riano, Basil Rathbone, and Claudette Colbert

With Renie Riano and Claudette Colbert in the Warner Bros. comedy Tovarich

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn

Rathbone locks swords with Errol Flynn in the Warner Bros. Technicolor swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Ida Lupino and Basil Rathbone

From Rathbone's second Sherlock Holmes crime thriller The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Ida Lupino

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff

From the excellent Universal stylish horror film Son of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone

From 20th Century-Fox's actioner The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power as the title character. This film was Rathbone's last swashbuckler

Rhythm on the River (1940)

Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby

From Paramount's musical comedy Rhythm on the River with Bing Crosby

Paris Calling (1941)

Basil Rathbone and Elisabeth Bergner

From Universal's war drama Paris Calling with Elisabeth Bergner

Frenchman's Creek (1944)

Basil Rathbone

Rathbone portrayed Lord Rockingham in the Technicolor pirate adventure Frenchman's Creek, released by Paramount

The Pearl of Death (1944)

Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, and Basil Rathbone

From Universal's Sherlock Holmes entry The Pearl of Death with Nigel Bruce and Evelyn Ankers

The Black Sleep (1956)

Basil Rathbone

Rathbone as mad scientist Sir Joel Cadman in the effective United Artists horror flick The Black Sleep

The Court Jester (1956)

Basil Rathbone

Rathbone as Sir Ravenhurst in the Danny Kaye comedy The Court Jester, released by Paramount

Tales of Terror (1962)

Debra Paget and Basil Rathbone

With Debra Paget in Roger Corman's Poe-inspired Tales of Terror, released by AIP

The Comedy of Terrors (1964)

Basil Rathbone

Rathbone wields an axe in the fun AIP horror/comedy flick The Comedy of Terrors

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)

Ed Garner, Aron Kincaid, Quinn O'Hara, and Basil Rathbone

From American International's final beach party film The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini With Ed Garner, Aron Kincaid, and Quinn O'Hara

later years

Rathbone left the role of Sherlock Holmes in 1946, fearing that he had been typecast. And he was right; movie audiences had difficulty accepting him in other roles, so he packed up his family and left Hollywood for New York to work on Broadway and in the new medium of television. He made fewer films thereafter but did quite a bit of work in early television from the late 1940s on, often acting in episodes of dramatic anthology series. In his final years, Rathbone appeared in a string of low-budget science fiction and horror films, many with a comedic bent, including Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965; with Faith Domergue), Queen of Blood (1966; with John Saxon and Florence Marly), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966; with Deborah Walley, and Tommy Kirk) and Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967; with Joi Lansing and Lon Chaney Jr.). Rathbone's final film was the comedic horror film Autopsy of a Ghost (1968; with John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell), shot in Mexico in late 1966. He passed away from a heart attack about eight months later, on July 21, 1967, at the age of 75. Rathbone was survived by his second wife Ouida, his son Basil Rodion, and daughter Barbara Cynthia. His daughter died at age 30 in 1969 from anemia-related problems.

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Autopsy of a Ghost (1968) with John Carradine, Amadee Chabot, and Cameron Mitchell
Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967) with Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, John Carradine, and Lon Chaney Jr.
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) with Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Aron Kincaid, Quinn O'Hara, Jesse White, Harvey Lembeck, Francis X. Bushman, Patsy Kelly, Boris Karloff, and Susan Hart
Queen of Blood (1966) with John Saxon, Judi Meredith, Dennis Hopper, Florence Marly, and Forrest J. Ackerman
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) with Faith Domergue
The Comedy of Terrors (1964) with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown, Beverly Hills, Linda Rogers, and Luree Holmes
Tales of Terror (1962) Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, and Debra Paget
Two Before Zero (1962)
The Magic Sword (1962) with Estelle Winwood, Gary Lockwood, Anne Helm, and Vampira; directed by Bert I. Gordon
Pontius Pilate (1962) with Jean Marais, Jeanne Crain, Leticia Roman, John Drew Barrymore, and Massimo Serato
Victoria Regina (1961) with Julie Harris, James Donald, Pamela Brown, Louis Edmonds, and Inga Swenson
The Last Hurrah (1958) with Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter, Dianne Foster, Pat O'Brien, Donald Crisp, John Carradine, Willis Bouchey, and Ricardo Cortez
The Black Sleep (1956) with Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, and Tor Johnson
The Court Jester (1956) with Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Mildred Natwick, Robert Middleton, Michael Pate, John Carradine, and Alan Napier
We're No Angels (1955) with Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Joan Bennett, Leo G. Carroll, Gloria Talbott, and John Smith
Billy Budd (1955) with Patrick Macnee and William Shatner
Casanova's Big Night (1954) with Bob Hope, Joan Fontaine, Audrey Dalton, Hugh Marlowe, John Carradine, John Hoyt, Hope Emerson, Robert Hutton, and Lon Chaney Jr.
Dressed to Kill (1946) with Nigel Bruce and Patricia Morison
Heartbeat (1946) with Ginger Rogers, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Adolphe Menjou, and Melville Cooper
Terror by Night (1946) with Nigel Bruce and Alan Mowbray
Pursuit to Algiers (1945) with Nigel Bruce
The Woman in Green (1945) with Nigel Bruce and Hillary Brooke
Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945) with Nigel Bruce and Aubrey Mather
Frenchman's Creek (1944) with Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, and Cecil Kellaway
The Pearl of Death (1944) with Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, and Rondo Hatton
Bathing Beauty (1944) with Red Skelton, Esther Williams, Bill Goodwin, Jean Porter, Ethel Smith, Xavier Cugat, Harry James, Janis Paige, and Helen Forrest
The Scarlet Claw (1944) with Nigel Bruce
The Spider Woman (1944) with Nigel Bruce and Gale Sondergaard
Crazy House (1943) with Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Cass Daley, Martha O'Driscoll, Patric Knowles, Percy Kilbride, Hans Conried, Billy Gilbert, Edgar Kennedy, and Franklin Pangborn
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943) with Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, and Milburn Stone
Above Suspicion (1943) with Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Conrad Veidt, and Reginald Owen
Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) with Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Lord, George Zucco, and John Archer
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) with Nigel Bruce and Lionel Atwill
Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) with Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, and Reginald Denny
Crossroads (1942) with William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, Claire Trevor, Sig Ruman, H.B. Warner, and Philip Merivale
Fingers at the Window (1942) with Lew Ayres and Laraine Day
Paris Calling (1941) with Elisabeth Bergner, Randolph Scott, Gale Sondergaard, and Lee J. Cobb
International Lady (1941) with George Brent, Ilona Massey, Gene Lockhart, George Zucco, and Clayton Moore
The Black Cat (1941) with Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, Gale Sondergaard, Anne Gwynne, and Alan Ladd
The Mad Doctor (1941) with Ellen Drew, John Howard, Ralph Morgan, and Hugh O'Connell
The Mark of Zorro (1940) with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Gale Sondergaard, Eugene Pallette, Chris-Pin Martin, and Robert Lowery
Rhythm on the River (1940) with Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, Oscar Levant, William Frawley, and Jeanne Cagney
Tower of London (1939) with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, and Leo G. Carroll
Rio (1939) with Victor McLaglen, Robert Cummings, Leo Carrillo, and Billy Gilbert
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) with Nigel Bruce, Ida Lupino, and George Zucco
The Sun Never Sets (1939) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Lionel Atwill, Virginia Field, Melville Cooper, and Cecil Kellaway
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) with Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, and John Carradine
Son of Frankenstein (1939) with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, and Josephine Hutchinson
The Dawn Patrol (1938) with Errol Flynn, David Niven, Donald Crisp, Melville Cooper, and Barry Fitzgerald
If I Were King (1938) with Ronald Colman, Frances Dee, Ellen Drew, and Henry Wilcoxon
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, and Melville Cooper
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) with Gary Cooper, Ernest Truex, Alan Hale, Binnie Barnes, Lana Turner, and H.B. Warner
Tovarich (1937) with Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer, Anita Louise, Melville Cooper, and Victor Kilian
Make a Wish (1937) with Bobby Breen, Leon Errol, Donald Meek, and Herbert Rawlinson
Confession (1937) with Kay Francis, Ian Hunter, Jane Bryan, Donald Crisp, Laura Hope Crews, and Veda Ann Borg
A Night of Terror (1937) with Ann Harding
The Garden of Allah (1936) with Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer, C. Aubrey Smith, and John Carradine
Romeo and Juliet (1936) with Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, John Barrymore, Edna May Oliver, C. Aubrey Smith, Andy Devine, and Reginald Denny
Private Number (1936) with Robert Taylor, Loretta Young, Patsy Kelly, Joe E. Lewis, Kane Richmond, and Jane Darwell
A Tale of Two Cities (1935) with Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allan, Edna May Oliver, and Reginald Owen
Captain Blood (1935) with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, and Ross Alexander
Kind Lady (1935) with Aline MacMahon, Mary Carlisle, and Frank Albertson
A Feather in Her Hat (1935) with Pauline Lord, Louis Hayward, Billie Burke, Wendy Barrie, Nana Bryant, and David Niven
The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) with Preston Foster, Alan Hale, Louis Calhern, and Edward Van Sloan
Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Freddie Bartholomew, Maureen O'Sullivan, May Robson, Reginald Owen, and Reginald Denny
David Copperfield (1935) with Edna May Oliver, Elizabeth Allan, Freddie Bartholomew, Una O'Connor, Lionel Barrymore, Elsa Lanchester, and W.C. Fields
One Precious Year (1933) with Anne Grey and Flora Robson
Loyalties (1933) with Alan Napier
After the Ball (1932)
A Woman Commands (1932) with Pola Negri, Roland Young, H.B. Warner, and Reginald Owen
Sin Takes a Holiday (1930) with Constance Bennett
A Lady Surrenders (1930) with Conrad Nagel and Franklin Pangborn
The Lady of Scandal (1930) with Ruth Chatterton
The Flirting Widow (1930) with Dorothy Mackaill
A Notorious Affair (1930) with Billie Dove and Kay Francis
This Mad World (1930)
The Bishop Murder Case (1930) with Roland Young
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) with Norma Shearer and Hedda Hopper
The Great Deception (1926) with Ben Lyon and Aileen Pringle
The Masked Bride (1925) with Mae Murray and Francis X. Bushman
Trouping with Ellen (1924)
The School for Scandal (1923)
Innocent (1921)
The Fruitful Vine (1921)

Additionally, Basil Rathbone appeared on a host of popular television programs from the late 1940s until his death, including Suspense, Studio One, Burke's Law, and Dr. Kildare.

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Basil Rathbone: Master of Stage and Screen
See this site for biographical information, photos, and more regarding actor Basil Rathbone.

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Watch Basil Rathbone's 1962 fantasy flick The Magic Sword

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